Congo as Fiction

Art Worlds between Past and Present

Congolese artists reflecting upon globalized trade, colonialism, proselytization, and virtual boundaries


Title Information

Edited by Nanina Guyer and Michaela Oberhofer

1st edition

, 2019

Text in English


328 pages, 413 color and 16 b/w illustrations

23 x 28 cm

ISBN 978-3-85881-835-5

In cooperation with Museum Rietberg, Zurich


A single Congo does not exist—or is in any case fictitious. Yet the Democratic Republic of Congo has an extraordinarily vibrant art scene that attracts great interest from around the world. Nowhere else in Africa art production is as manifold in form, media, and materials used. For many years, Congolese artists have been exploring and reflecting upon the effects of globalized trade, colonialism, proselytization, and virtual boundaries.

For the first time, this book, published in conjunction with an exhibition at Zurich’s Museum Rietberg, features art works and photographs collected by German anthropologist Hans Himmelheber during his journey to the Congo in 1938–39. They bear witness of the period’s extraordinary creativity and innovativeness as well as of the collector’s own idea of Congo. They are juxtaposed with works by contemporary Congolese artists and complemented by essays that investigate the fiction of Congo both as an African and Western World imagination. Thus, the book links the past with the utopia of contemporary artistic production in central Africa.

With contributions by Sandrine Colard, Laura Falletta, Christraud M. Geary, Nanina Guyer, Nzomba Dugo Kakema, David Mannes, Michaela Oberhofer, Constantine Petridis, Jens Stenger, and Z.S. Strother.


Nanina Guyer is curator for photography at Museum Rietberg in Zurich. She is currently pursuing a research project on photography in Congo during the 1930s.

Michaela Oberhofer is curatort of African art at Museum Rietberg in Zurich. She directs a research project on Hans Himmelheber and African art in collaboration with University of Zurich.


Deutsche Ausgabe

Authors & Editors
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Please send the following high resolution images:


Mask with the face of a woman kambanda, Artist from the Pende region, Congo, before 1939. © Museum Rietberg Zürich, gift Barbara and Eberhard Fischer

Evolve, Michèle Magema, 2019, commissioned by Museum Rietberg Zurich

Black Out Poetry, David Shongo, 2019, Preview

Raffia wraparound garment ntshak, Artist of the Kuba region, Congo, first half of the 20th century. © Museum der Kulturen Basel

Chief of the Yaka region, Hans Himmelheber, Congo, 1938. © Museum Rietberg, gift community of heirs Hans Himmelheber

Toko, from «Mvuatu-Mboka Na Biso – et la Suisse», Fiona Bobo, 2019, commissioned by Museum Rietberg Zurich

Nkisi numérique, Hilaire Balu Kuyangiko, Congo, 2017. © Rainer Wolfsberger, Museum Rietberg

X-ray tomography image of the Songye force figure, 2019. Paul Scherrer institute, Villigen

Papotage, Steve Bandoma, 2016. © MAGNIN-A


All images printed must come with respective picture credit and may only be published in connection with a book review containing the publishing house, the title of the book and names of editors or authors.


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